Saudi Arabia's Al Hilal and Japan's Urawa Reds set up Asian Champions League final showdown

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Brazilian Rafael Silva snatched an early winner as Japan’s Urawa Reds beat star-studded Shanghai SIPG 1-0 at home on Wednesday to set up an Asian Champions League final against Saudi giants Al Hilal.

The Reds and Al Hilal will face off in next month’s two-leg final after a 2-1 aggregate win ended Japan’s miserable recent run in Asia’s premier club competition.

The winner of that final will feature in the FIFA Club World Cup this December in Abu Dhabi.

Silva pounced after just 11 minutes in Saitama when he met a Yosuke Kashiwagi corner to power a header past Shanghai goalkeeper Yan Junling for what proved to be the only goal of a fractious encounter.

Japanese clubs have struggled to make an impact in the competition since Urawa’s victory in 2007 and Gamba Osaka’s triumph a year later.

Although Shanghai largely dominated possession, with Brazil internationals Oscar and Hulk threatening in spells, the visitors lacked end product, allowing Urawa to complete a relatively untroubled victory.

Hulk, who tops the Champions League scoring charts with nine goals, brought a smart save from Reds keeper Shusaku Nishikawa with a dipping free kick after 24 minutes.

But the Reds could have added further goals in the second half as a Tomoaki Makino header clipped the bar and Shinzo Koroki saw a close-range effort brilliantly tipped over by Yan.

Another Hulk rocket 12 minutes from time forced a decent block from Nishikawa, who then reacted quickly to smother Elkeson’s follow-up.

But Shanghai’s performance had Portuguese coach Andre Villas-Boas ranting on the touchline a day after the former Chelsea boss turned 40.

“It was a great effort from the whole team to keep a clean sheet,” said Urawa captain Yuki Abe after the Reds ended 10 years of hurt in the ACL.

“We knew the first goal would be crucial but we came into the match with no fear and got the result. Hopefully we can do it again in the final.”

Al Hilal completed a 6-2 aggregate win over Iran’s Persepolis on Tuesday after scoring four unanswered goals in the first leg.

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Zoran Mamic laments lack of killer instinct as Al Ain bow out of AFC Champions League to Al Hilal

Matt Jones 12/09/2017
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Zoran Mamic bemoaned a lack of killer instinct that denied Al Ain the chance at an appearance in consecutive AFC Champions League finals.

The Boss were dumped out of the competition following a 3-0 second-leg rout in Riyadh by Al Hilal – although Mamic felt his side dominated the first half but were undone by wasted chances, while two rapid fire goals from the hosts just before the interval left them with a mountainous task.

“My team played the best football and dominated most of the game,” said the Croat, who saw defenders Tsukusa Shiotani and Mohamed Ahmed both waste good opportunities to open the scoring and silence the King Fahd International Stadium crowd.

“The team could not translate the opportunities they had into goals and if you cannot do that at this stage of the competition, then certainly you will not qualify for the semi-finals.”

Failure to strike an early blow and gain a precious away goal would prove catastrophic for the visiting team when lethal Brazilian playmaker Carlos Eduardo headed and volleyed in from Nicolas Milesi free-kicks within four minutes at the end of the first half.

Al Ain threw caution to the wind after the break and former Porto schemer Eduardo made sealed the Crescent’s passage into the last four by completing his hat-trick 16 minutes from time.

Al Ain were shorn of experienced UAE centre-back Mohanad Salem – sent off in the first leg in the Garden City three weeks ago, as well as fellow suspended defender Khaled Abdulrahman – but Mamic did not see their absences as significant factors.

“I do not think the absences were the cause of the loss, because the opposing team also has absences in their ranks,” said Mamic of Hilal, who were missing Saudi Arabia international Salman Al Faraj.

Mohamed Ahmed (r) wasted a good chance for Al Ain at 0-0

Mohamed Ahmed (r) wasted a good chance for Al Ain at 0-0

“The loss is clear and lies in not exploiting the chances that we had to score, in addition to our lack of focus in the second half.

“We did not show the required level in the second half of the game and did not succeed in the implementation of our duties.

“We lacked focus. Certainly, in the second half, we had no choice but to adopt an offensive style and we had to leave spaces in the field. This helped Hilal.”

The same scoreline at home in 2014’s semi-finals helped Hilal into the ACL final that year and coach Ramon Diaz revealed he had every confidence his side would get the job done at home.

“Al Hilal showed great desire to qualify and the team spirit in the game was high,” said the Argentine.

“My team was able to overcome all the circumstances and absences and I do not forget the important role played by the crowd in the match, as everyone contributed to achieve this strong result.”

Although former Paraguay coach Diaz hopes he can deliver his side into another final, he was hoping compatriots Al Ahli Jeddah could overcome Iran’s Persepolis in the other west Asia semi-final last night in order to ensure a Saudi team is guaranteed a final berth.

“I certainly hope to meet a Saudi team so that the Kingdom will have a seat in the Champions League final, so I hope Saudi Arabia qualify in the next phase of the competition,” he added.

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Al Ain must show fighting spirit against Al Hilal, says Zoran Mamic

Matt Jones 11/09/2017
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Zoran Mamic has called on Al Ain to show their fighting spirit as they prepare to enter the lion’s den of Al Hilal’s King Fahd International Stadium looking for the result that will earn them an AFC Champions League semi-final berth.

The scores are evenly poised between two of Asia’s club heavyweights after a 0-0 draw at the Hazza bin Zayed Stadium three weeks ago. It was advantage Al Ain after the game after the Boss had played for most of the second half down to 10 men following centre-back Mohanad Salem’s foolish sending-off.

Now Mamic’s men have to negotiate the cauldron-like atmosphere of Hilal’s stronghold in Riyadh – a stadium that holds an intimidating 68,752 fans.

“The game is one of the strongest football matches that Al Ain will have faced in recent years, especially since it combines two big teams,” said the Croat.

“We are required to provide a strong performance and show the spirit of fighting while also displaying high concentration and keeping possession of the ball and not giving any cheap opportunities to the opponents.

Zoran Mamic wants his players to show spirit

Zoran Mamic wants his players to show spirit

“Our goal in the last game was to win but it is not easy to get a positive result, especially after the red card. We will enter the second half of the tie and look forward to achieving a strong result that ensures our qualification for the semi-finals.”

With Salem suspended, fellow UAE defender Ismail Ahmed will come into the centre of defence. The veteran came on after Salem’s dismissal in the first leg, although he probably featured ahead of schedule following knee surgery in the summer.

Hilal coach Ramon Diaz, meanwhile, will be without midfield dynamo Salman Al Faraj, but is hoping the King Fahd International Stadium crowd will be in fine voice to provide a hostile atmosphere.

“We are fully ready for (the) match despite missing some players but we worked very well and have many solutions including the most important solution which is the Al Hilal fans,” the Argentine said.

Diaz began his press conference by praising the Saudi national team after their 1-0 victory the previous week against Japan, which earned them qualification to next year’s World Cup in Russia.

He added: “It will mean the participation of many players of Al Hilal, but the players have professional and good mentalities to forget the celebrations after this achievement and concentrate on the Asian competition with the club.”

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